Millennials in Ministry: Lencioni Thinking

Too often, people in church-world speak of “reaching” Millennials as if we’re some “foreign entity” (h/t Tim O’Malley) or a group solely in need of being reached/served/ministered to, in contrast to being baptized-believers whom God is already at work in and through–right now.

Patrick Lencioni, co-founder of Amazing Parish, offers these thoughts on Millennials:

As it turns out, there is a better way to think about hiring good people than focusing on a person’s generational stereotype. It comes down to looking for three simple, timeless and observable virtues that are reliable predictors of whether someone of any age will be a good team player. Thankfully, while generations change, the nature of teamwork does not.

I agree! A healthy organization is a healthy organization not because of the particular generational identities of its members, but because of their common commitment, the way the relate, and the way they make decisions together.

Millennials are largely missing from the teams of leaders in many church ministrieswhat holds us back? Maybe, a better appreciation of what makes a healthy organization and what cultivates effective teamwork is a missing piece. We don’t know how to “talk” about being an effective ministry organization because we lack the vocabulary, and so we default to stereotypes, thinking it’s because of a person’s age, marital status, regional identity, race, gender, etc. that “we can’t work well together” or “we always communicate poorly.”

As I’ve said before, I highly recommend Lencioni’s The Advantage for anyone in ministerial leadership. And 🙂 as a Millennial, I’m looking forward to reading Lencioni’s latest book, The Ideal Team Player, to see how it connects with each of our own baptismal vocations in ministry and some of the classic scholarship on “courageous followership.”

Have you read “The Advantage” or plan on reading “The Ideal Team Player” through a ministry lens? Share your thoughts in the Comments.

Millennial Scrabble
Jeff Djevdet (Flickr), CC by 2.0

Vocation. Integration. Combination.

Patrick Didonato on work, ministry, and personal integration:

For the lay disciple, what is the difference between being just a great [insert a job title here] and working for the Church full-time?

It’s not just one or the other, but rather, audaciously fusing the two in every aspect of our lives.

That’s our mission as intentional disciples.

Why is this so important?

Because becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ and following Him means recognizing that God cares what we do with our time. Yet, this doesn’t mean that every single person who calls Jesus Lord is called to work (paid or volunteer) “full-time” in the Church. Church work is not, by default, better than secular work–or not working for pay, etc. This would fail to acknowledge that as Christians, we are not of the world–yet still in the world–and called to bring the Gospel into all spheres of society.

Failure to fuse or integrate the two ideas also reveals some real human resources issues in our design of “jobs” in ministry, i.e. treating full-time work as “better” or “more significant” than part-time work, rather than looking at actual outcomes; of thinking “more hours” is better (when this may prevent healthy integration of ministry and human formation/needs); and closing out many potential candidates for ministry work due to our own inability to recognize the evolution in more flexible work policies, and more.

To work “in the Church” or not is a false, humanly constrained set of choices. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must pursue something more–“audaciously fusing” and integrating our lives in a way that opens us the most to follow the Holy Spirit and embrace the renewed life offered to us in communion with Jesus Christ.


Renewing Ourselves Before “Fixing” Those Volunteers

The more I talk to parish ministry staff and volunteer leaders, the more I hear about how finding enough, quality volunteers is a challenge. Sometimes so much of a challenge that a leader can become overwhelmed by this–and only see this barrier. It can get discouraging. Plus, the wrong volunteers to continue planning, implementing, and assessing any new initiative in church-life can doom even the most brilliantly inspired and prayerfully discerned new direction. We’ve got a tag going here on this blog for Volunteer Management, and here’s the latest…some practical tips from experienced Children’s Ministers, that apply to us all:

Let’s start with ourselves (not the prospective volunteers), here’s what we need to stop doing…

  1. Making announcements (pulpit, bulletin, social media, etc.) in a vacuum and expecting to get the right volunteers.
  2. Feeling guilty about recruiting volunteers, and thus procrastinating (leading to all sorts of other problems in training, discernment, quality, etc.).
  3. Relying on leaders (or the dedicated few) as routine “substitutes”–it’s okay to substitute sometimes, but if this is routine, it really just means you’re avoiding the heart of the matter when it comes to formation and recruiting.
  4. Not having a clear plan, vision, and mission for your volunteers (and waiting until you “have some” to figure this out).
  5. Taking setbacks personally and leaving prayer out of the equation.

What to do instead?

  • Spiritual formation first! Set ministry volunteering within the proper context of stewardship as a disciple’s response to God’s love–a “get to,” not a “have to.”
  • Pray, pray, pray–for God’s guidance to give you eyes to see needs, others, etc.
  • Build relationships. All the time. With current volunteers and potential/future ones. Relationships, not announcements work.
  • Do more listening. As Tom McKee explains (in the interview this post is based on):

I often find that if I listen, that “no” actually means one of several things: “Not now — I’ve got too much on my plate;” “Not this position — I have other gifts I’d like to use;” “Not with this present leadership;” or “Not in your lifetime.” Listen carefully to the excuses.

  • Think of recruiting volunteers like dating–take the time to get to know the person, don’t force them to make a huge yes/no/forever commitment to serve once as part of discerning ministry, progressively build into greater responsibility, get to know the person’s strengths and don’t be afraid to use these strengths, know when it’s okay to prayerfully discern a “no” or “let me introduce you to another ministry…”



From Parish Volunteerism to Discipleship Culture

I cringe a little at using the word “volunteer” with regards to ministering in the local church. It makes it sound so optional, an extra add-on. The reality is that almost all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ have been given gifts to be used for the building up of the Body of Christ. A “right and duty” more than an “If I have time and if I’m needed…” option.

But 🙂 practically-speaking, the word “volunteer” in a broader, secular sense simply means one who is not paid for their labor/services. Our parishes and ministries are filled with volunteers. If you know of a disciple-making Catholic parish without lots of volunteers, I’d be interested to the the model–simply because it is so rare! For most of us then, volunteer management is a key component of our administration and leadership. Management of volunteers requires just as much intentional planning and attention to human resource practices as does management of employees!

With that in mind, here are 5 key questions to examine your own volunteer culture from Rich Birch, 5 Heart-Check Questions about the Volunteer Culture at Your Church | unSeminary.

All five may be useful, depending what stage your volunteer cultivation is at–but Birch’s #1 question on culture–Are you helping them grow in their relationship with Jesus?–shines a light into an area many of us can certainly improve in!

For Catholic ministries, there’s a more fundamental, critical question than Birch’s, and it’s this: has each of your volunteers had the foundational, fundamental conversion, i.e. the “conversion [that] means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple”? (Redemptoris Missio, 46).

Most (but not all) times I’ve volunteered in Catholic ministry, no one has asked me about this conversion, this decision. I suppose it was either assumed or considered not something relevant or worth talking about. And it wasn’t skipped because of my outward fruits, since in some cases I was brand-new to the Catholic community. To put in bluntly, a background check prior to working with children was a non-negotiable (for good reason!). But, any details concerning my conversion or present relationship with Christ were optional.

If we skip over the “growth as a disciple” aspect of volunteer culture, we’re sending folks into ministry who are not able to “give” what they have not yet fully realized they’ve received! While a volunteer may be baptized, if grace of baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit are not fully unleashed, their impact in ministry will be limited. We’re doing the volunteer (as well as those served) a disservice. Just think how hard it would be to sustain oneself in volunteer ministry without a daily walk with Jesus as friend.

Start with the basics–conversion and decision for Jesus Christ. Don’t turn away interested volunteers who are not yet conscious disciples, but instead enter into a new relationship with them to grow, mentor, and disciple them so that they are ready to make a decision for Christ and become the volunteers you [and our Church!] most deeply need.

You may want to develop a parish-specific version of this “Discipleship Road Map” from the FOCUS Catholic Ministry to help name the discipleship stages of your volunteers. By doing this you’ve created a path for growth, and set the conditions so that all are welcome to come and grow, i.e. if someone volunteers as a children’s catechist, and through an interview you discover that they aren’t sure about deciding to be Jesus’s disciple, maybe place them as an assistant with a more mature disciple, who can meet with them outside of class to serve as a spiritual mentor. Through this person’s presence in a catechetical setting where the kerygma is clearly proclaimed, he/she can experience foundational conversion and make a decision to yield one’s life to Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit!


Ministry Hires: Building Applicant Pools Internally and Externally

Your parish or ministry is looking for a new leader. A new staff member. Where to go?

Many organizations submit a job description to a diocesan human resource page–maybe post it on a larger search engine like–and leave it at that. An “if we build it, they will come” approach.

Now this is a good start, but people are important. Arguably, the most important leadership and administrative decision when it comes to shaping the organizational effectiveness of your parish or ministry. Building up and strengthening an applicant pool for any open position is critical to ensuring your team can make a positive discernment and decision, and leverage the talents and spiritual gifts present in the Body of Christ.

Ideas for Expanding the Pool

  • Consider the Diversity of Your Area. If your current staff does not reflect the cultural or demographic diversity of the geographic area where you minister, set a goal to recruit at least one candidate (preferably more) who do reflect the demographics (race, ethnicity, language, age, etc.).
  • Pursue Success. Keep your eyes open for those who’ve been successful in similar roles in other churches/ministries, especially if they’ve grown or transformed their area of ministerial focus. Reach out and explain that your parish might not be to their vision yet, but you’re interested in their potential to serve as a change leader with a vision. If they’ve been building a strong ministry for many years in one location, they likely have able assistants ready to step up. By recruiting proven leaders to the areas of most need, you’re creating opportunity for others to grow.
  • Have a Dream. Share your dream, your vision for the particular ministry area you’re recruiting for with your entire staff, parish council, and/or other trusted volunteer leaders. Ask them to pitch the dream to individuals they know who might be motivated to take it on and then encourage them to apply for the position.
  • Plant Seeds Within Your Community. As Fr. Michael White writes, “be constantly on the lookout for new talent so that when the inevitable happens and someone leaves you’ve already got a pool of likely candidates.”
  • Contact Educational Institutions. Many centers of formation for Catholic lay ministers are hosted within larger educational institutions. While these institutions may have well-resourced career centers, these career centers rarely focus on forging connections with dioceses, etc. to help new ministry graduates. Build contacts and relationships with programs producing lay ministers so that through professors and directors of formation you can get connected to qualified candidates who might be a great fit for your ministry.

Many debate the merits of hiring from within vs. hiring externally. I think that’s a conversation that doesn’t require a set answer. More important than internal vs. external, is small applicant pool vs. large. Build your applicant pool, so that you aren’t discerning out of scarcity, but instead discerning based on the wide array of gifts God has given the Church and the Body of Christ for ministry.

Benchmarking: Priests Lead the Way (Statistically) in Administrative Work

Catholic priests spend twice as much time per week “administering congregation’s work and attending meetings” (via What do clergy do all week? | Pulpit and Pew).

This survey is old (from the turn of the century, aka 2001), but I’m not sure conditions have changed so dramatically that this wouldn’t still be true today.

The key question: so what?

Administration is one of many spiritual gifts (charisms). Ordination–like baptism–causes ontological change, but doesn’t include the Holy Spirit pouring out or increasing the spiritual gift of ordination in every person ordained a deacon, priest, or bishop (but probably some, thankfully!).

If priests are spending a much higher proportion of time on administration versus their other individual spiritual needs, needs of parish, and/or their unique charisms, then this is problematic. etc. We should want to correct this because of “charism-mismatch” more than a localized “priest shortage.”

This is a benchmark. A comparison to other like, but not identical, organizations (Protestant congregations). Catholic congregations are much larger, on average, than non-Catholic ones. So–there is probably more administrative work. Interestingly, Catholic priests report statistically similar percentages of time spent on “denominational and community affairs.” So no, don’t blame the diocese right away for the difference ;-).

My take aways:

1. Rely on Church teaching (especially Canon Law), rather than custom (aka the way we’ve always seen it done around here…) to determine what tasks, roles, and responsibilities are most (in many cases, only!) suited for the ordained minister.

2. In other areas, discern spiritual gifts, natural talents, and developed competencies among ministers, staff, and volunteers to match the gifts with the parish’s needs.

3. It seems unlikely (but, I admit, not impossible) that a dramatically higher proportion of Catholic priests have the spiritual gift of administration compared to those called to ministry in non-Catholic contexts, thus making it good that we’re “using” this gift so much more often. Instead, anecdotally what many in the pews report is that it’s harder to get spiritual care or be known within a Catholic parish. You could be a member for ten years. Drift away. And never receive a call or even note from the pastor or other ministerial staff. While this is due to size, it’s probably also a zero-sum side effect of all that extra pastor-time spent on administration.

4. Part of administration in this survey included meeting attendance. Carefully consider, who needs to be at a meeting? Does there need to be a meeting? And, why is the pastor here? In many cases, it’s out of habit, a sense of obligation, or a culture where the task, plan, or decision to be made is only valid if a priest is present. Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran address the need to take this on in Tools for Rebuilding. This could be another good way for priests to gain back more time for their unique charisms and gifts of ordination.

5. Many Catholic parishes find themselves in a financial spiral (not enough disciples, thus not enough spiritual givers, thus not enough money to hire disciple-makers) that prevents hiring more staff. Think about volunteers! Can you use volunteers more creatively in line with their gifts and talents to take on administrative work? Most parishes readily ask for volunteer ministers when it comes to communion to the homebound, lectoring, music ministry, catechesis, greeting, and more–but what about around the office?

Bottom line: Catholic parishes will usually (on average) require more administrative work than non-Catholic ones due to larger size. But let’s not let it get out of hand to the spiritual detriment of the local flock. And, most importantly, let’s try to cooperate with our gifts of the Holy Spirit more often, rather than assign administrative responsibilities in a mechanistic fashion.

Missing Contributions at the Decision-Making Table

Last month University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio hosted a symposium “Hispanic Leadership and Philanthropy for a 21st Century Church.” All topics were powerful, but one conversation caught my attention as a snapshot of mismatch when it comes to the human capital of young adults and Catholic ministries. Check out these Tweets:

Just a quick qualitative sense of the situation–but an especially interesting one since it addresses not one, but two populations (younger and Hispanic) where there is a perception (and statistical reality) of not being represented in above-entry-level parish ministry positions, volunteer leadership roles on boards and parish councils, and diocesan director/coordinator ministries [except, of course, if it’s dealing with young adults or Hispanic ministry.] We’ve talked some human resource management techniques that could help here and here.

Why is This So Important? Beyond the theological reasons (i.e. Ephesians 4:5 “one Lord, one baptism, one faith” regardless of age or ethnicity and not wanting to pass over spiritual and natural gifts to be used for the edification of the Body of Christ) a CARA study on parish ministers (both volunteer and paid) reveals a number of areas where the perceptions of Millennial generation and non-Anglo/Hispanic ministers overlap, and are significantly different than the perceptions of “typical” parish ministers.

Examples of Differing Perceptions

Only 38 percent of Millennial leaders and 41 percent of Hispanic leaders provide an “excellent” evaluation for their parish’s hospitality and sense of welcome. This is in contrast to a striking 84 percent of leaders as a whole who believe their parish’s hospitality is excellent.

86 percent of parish leaders say their parish does a “good” or “excellent” job at encouraging parishioners to share their time, ta lent, and treasure, yet among Hispanic/Latino(a) and Millennial Generation leaders the approval drops to 72 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

89 percent of leaders believe their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at recruiting and retaining ministers and/or staff. Yet, only 23 percent of Millennial ministers agree the parish is having “very much” success in this area.

83 percent of ministers surveyed report their parish is “somewhat” or “very much” successful at listening to parishioner concerns and/or input. In contrast Millennial parish ministers hold the least positive view of the success of their parish to listen to parishioners and 31 percent of Hispanic/Latino(a) ministers assess their parish as “a little” or “not at all” successful at this.

Finally, when it comes to the vision provided by parish leaders, Non-Anglo and Millennial ministers are a lot less likely to rate it as “excellent” and much more likely to assess it as “fair” or “poor,” compared to others in ministry. visionbygenWhat to Make of This?

One might be quick to conclude that Millennials, Non-Anglo, and Hispanic/Latino(a) ministers are just plain negative–and dismiss the findings. But other categories (i.e. satisfaction with parish, liturgy, sense that older and younger members of staff work well together, social service, etc.) in the study reveal a different picture where these sub-groups are more or equally positive than other parish leader sub-groups.

While I tend to think the calls to ministry across generations are fairly similar (similar in diversity that is!) the perceptions of Millennial and non-Anglo parish leaders differ significantly in areas that are very important for the New Evangelization and parish revitalization (i.e. welcoming, communication, inviting into ministry, listening etc.). This should give us serious pause when we encounter decision-making and pastoral planning processes where these underrepresented ministers are not present. And not just present in say, a parish Q&A session–but at the decision-making table as serious contributors.

Another angle to consider is the axiom perception is reality. I could sit in a parish and objectively name all the great things we’re doing to be hospitable and welcoming. There might be nothing factually incorrect with what I report. However, if a significant portion of the population in our mission field (i.e. a geographic parish area, not just those in the pews) doesn’t experience or perceive this hospitality–then the parish isn’t as successful in this area as I understand it to be. Period. More and more of our mission fields include younger (Generation X and Millennial) and non-Anglo/Hispanic adults, in larger and larger proportions (the highest estimates I’ve seen state that young adult Catholics are 40 percent of the Catholic population in the U.S. and Hispanic Catholics 60 percent–with overlap). This is an important reason to thicken applicant pools for open positions, actively recruit, and write job descriptions in ways that maximize, not minimize, the types of people who might apply.

It’s also worthwhile thinking about ways to better leverage volunteer human capital in ministry as well. The goal is not to have every person employed in a ministry. No. What’s ideal is when spiritual and natural gifts of the baptized are optimally aligned with the needs of our communities for work that edifies the body and spreads the Good News to every corner of each of our communities. This means going beyond, would you like to be a catechist or a lector?

An encouraging example of this is the relatively new Board of Young Professionals (Catholic Charities, Diocese of Joliet, IL). Auxillary or adjunct boards and councils are a great way to build up young leaders and create a bridge between interest/charism/gift and the ability to make a difference. Initiatives like these help young adults get closer to decision-making and leadership in ministry (versus the perception in some places that board of director or parish council membership is for “older generations”).

ESTEEM is another initiative that aims to form college-aged Catholics for participation in parishes–not as youth ministers or catechists–but in ways well suited to:

their intellectual acumen, their innate leadership qualities, their passion for excellence and desire to serve the Church. The project aims to identify those young adults, cultivate their desire for service to the Church, provide a curriculum that encourages their leadership, especially in the temporal affairs of the Church, and offer opportunities for such service, gradually developing a network of talented, actively engaged young adult leaders serving the Church.

It’s not a pipe dream. Be encouraged. We (and I mean all of us–employers, applicants, older, younger, second career changers, fresh-out-of-college, lay, ordained, Hispanic, Anglo, academic institutions, dioceses, and more) can make progress for the sake of the Gospel. But, it takes action and deliberate cultural/organizational change, rather than hoping for the best and continuing business as usual. As Fr. Michael White recently Tweeted:

 Yep. Ditto for all Catholic ministries. Let’s keep on striving 🙂